If You Are Confused About the Concept of “Brands”

 The author is an experienced brand consultant, who has many years’ experience in brand planning, marketing strategies and integration of communication planning and implementation. Once worked as senior manager in multi-national and local companies in marketing consulting and integrating communications fields, experienced in strategic planning. He formerly worked for CNC and was responsible for brand management.  Providing brand strategies, communication strategies and implementation and training service for many international and local clients. The brands include: FAW-Volkswagen, Jetta Cars, 263 Internet Communications, Dangdang Website, Aucma Airconditioner, FAW Toyota, Tour in Sichuan, CNC, LG, Beijing Yanli Food, and more.

Sun Lei

He constantly ponders and develops professional settlement methods in marketing, branding and communication fields, etc. Lots of articles have been published in professional media such as International Advertising, AD PANORAMA, Advertising Pointer, China Marketing Communication Website (EMKT) and so on. You are welcome to discuss your ideas and express your opinions with the author. Tel: 13901385424 E-mail: lei.sun@revobranding.com

Ambiguous Brand Definitions The definition of a brand can not be truly, exactly defined or understood. Kotler, the author of Marketing Management, defined brand as a name, a noun, a symbol, a kind of design or all of the above, and he understood that brands contribute to make products or services different from other competitors. A famous advertising agency company thinks that, brands equal to images. A consulting company believes that brands are the relation between products and consumers, and brand development is the development of the relationships between products and consumers. I have also heard of many other different definitions, for example, brands are commitments; brands are experience; brands are perceptions; and so on. Based on these definitions, diversified brand theories will be used to explain different phenomenon,

and certain methods will be created to guide the practice of brand construction. Since there are so many brand definitions in the actual world, even some authoritative, widelycited brand theories can not explain some events or situations. Let’s first ask questions about Kotler’s definition: if brands are only used to make differences, then why does brand have value? Why there are different prices for the same products after being differentiated by different brands, and why are people willing to buy them? If brands are images, than what does that make images? What is the relationship between images and products? Are the images in consumers’ minds or possessed by enterprises? If brands are relations, what is the meaning of adding brand names or logos to products? Why do enterprises like to hire super stars as spokespeople to develop their products publicity, instead of just using the money to improve the relationships between them and consumers? Or more directly, just lower the price of the products which can give the consumers more benefit in order to improve their relation with the consumers. Every time when I encounter a new definition on the theory of “Brands”, I will put it to the test of my past experience and practices. The results usually disappoint me. Not only I, but all the people dealing with brands will meet similar problems. Enterprise top leaders, marketing heads and advertising or PR company staff actually are discussing, developing, creating and managing brands every day. But for those who have very close relationships with brands, it is really astonishing that there is not an authoritative explanation or an accepted definition on “what are brands”. Maybe some people who have more knowledge, deeper thinking and more experience will try to build their own theory system in accordance with his daily business so that he can guide his job or company in the right direction. But most people have simplified and one-sided knowledge and sometimes even wrong perceptions and applications. The common saying that sounds the most applicable is, “theories guide practice”. The chaotic situation on brand definition will seriously influence the establishment, development and prosperousness of outstanding Chinese brands, and restrict the cultivation and development of excellent Chinese brand management elites. Therefore, a relatively complete brand definition which can be used in practice must be established in a short time. This definition must be able to explain different brand phenomenon, co-exist with most brand theories and most importantly, guide brand management practices. The following are some attempts on brand definitions, which are onlymy personal opinions but can be used as reference for people in the same field, so that practical theories can be developed.


Three Brand Elements I have realized that, brand essences are very affluent after spending many years’ practicing and thinking about branding theories. I believe if there is a so-called brand existing, it should have the elements showing in the following graph:

Let me explain the three brand elements above with examples: Suppose now a brand-new nutritional beverage will be launched in the market. This beverage is the product that its brand represents, which we call “entity”. And then we name this beverage as “Kinetic Energy”, and design an athletic bottle logo, which will be registered at the trademark bureau. All of these can be called “differentiation”. Consumers are impressed by its refreshing taste, its astonishing value of recovering energy, its beautiful packaging and the brand which the product is representing. When “Kinetic Energy” is mentioned, the associations above will immediately appear in consumers’ minds, and therefore all the psychological activity is called “perception”. How do the three brand elements effectively motivate purchase behaviors? Let us invent a purchase process. A white-collar lady walks by a shop at the corner. She feels thirsty and thinks that “maybe I’ll buy a drink; is that “Kinetic Energy”? I have seen its advertisement”. The actor in the advertisement is so cool; the taste of the drink is supposed to be refreshing and the packaging looks good. The “Kinetic Energy” in the display caught her eye and posters on the wall remind her of the scenes in the advertisement, so she chooses it without hesitation. The case above draws on the outlines of the three brand elements: A Brand must have its corresponding “entity”, products or services which will meet consumers’ demands. For example, drinks can be used to quench thirst. Effective “differentiation” will be established between these products or services from other products and services

through specific means. Whether this “differentiation” is effective or not is decided by consumers’ perception, i.e. the consumers’ experience. The special perception is to establish clear relations between “differentiation” and “entity” in the consumers’ minds; that is to say, consumers know and are familiar with the product brand. Only in this situation can we say the three elements are completely constructed and a brand forms. In order to help you to understand this definition, please try to answer the following questions: if “Kinetic Energy” is not launched in the market, can it be called a brand? According to the definitions of the three brand elements, the present “Kinetic Energy” can not be called “brand”. The reason is consumers have no understanding or experience with it and therefore “perception” won’t be formed. There is only one of the three elements so it can not be called a brand. Testing the Theories Can the three brand elements theory help us to clarify branding? Let’s have a look. Starting from the difficult questions, what is brand value? Why do the same products of different brands have different prices? According to the theory of the three brand elements, it is easy to find that brand value is not product or service but a value of consumers’ perceptions. For example, the new celebrities in the entertainment industry will get some fame through purposefully participating in certain relationships with famous people, which is called sensational hype. Why does this happen? Because for those who are in the entertainment industry, it will bring more opportunities if he or she has more acquaintances, and more people will pay attention to his or her new work, which is the value of “sensational hype”. The old saying goes that fame and interest coexist. There are many aspects to evaluate brand value, such as perceptions on quality, partiality, reputation and loyalty, etc. It actually sorts and quantifies consumers’ perceptions as to effectively manage their perceptions. Consumers have different perception values for different brands, so similar products with different brand logos will arouse different consumers’ perception values. For example, there may be no actual difference in material, design, craftwork and pattern between Goldlion ties and Dunhill ties, but some consumers are willing to buy Dunhill ties paying five times the price of Goldlion ties. There may be different purchase motives but their psychology can be easily summed up: the Dunhill brand holds value. Real consumers seldom carry out systematic and scientific market research to obtain complete product knowledge so as to make “rational” product decisions, which differs from the hypothesis of traditional economics. After understanding the three brand elements, the following questions will actually be easy to answer: If brands equal images, than what are images? What are the relations

between brands and images? Do these images exist in consumers’ minds or are they possessed by enterprises? “Brand images” are actually consumers’ “perceptions”. From a practical perspective, we need to differentiate consumers’ perceptions. The ambiguous notion of a “brand image” will easily lead to confusion between the consumers’ perceptions and the intended brand image. We need to form these perceptions into a clear definition of the brand we want the consumers to perceive. After we clearly define “brand images” as “perceptions”, it is self-evident that the relation between products and images is the relation between “entity” and “perception” in the three brand elements. So do consumers possess brands or do enterprises possess brands? For this question, we need to ask another question: who has the right to brand ownership? Whoever possesses the brand ownership possess both consumers’ perceptions and values of these perceptions. While enterprises possess brand property rights, brands actually exist in consumers’ perceptions. For example, if P&G purchases Gillette, it not only purchases its factories, equipments, products, fixed assets, etc. but it also purchases Gillette’s property rights for many brands and the consumers’ perception values on these brands, which is hidden. Let’s refer back to the theories of “brands are relations” and “brands are commitments”. The restrictions of these theories are that they only emphasize a certain direction, a certain function or a certain attribute, but not a complete or systematic expression on brand essence. Conclusion The definition of the three brand elements theory tells us: it is the essence of brand building to mold the perceptions in consumers’ minds through all the means available. Since the establishment and change of consumers’ perceptions is a long and expensive process, it’s a challenging and systematic task to establish and maintain brands. Compare it to how much work you will do and how long it will take to make your colleagues or friends trust you. Meanwhile, because this value only exists in consumers’ minds, it only needs a small incident to destroy this value. It was once reported that Nike used child labor in factories abroad. Consumers stopped buying Nike products as soon as they heard the news. Firstly, they thought Nike’s behavior was immoral. Secondly, they thought it disobeyed consumers’ beliefs and values to buy products made by exploited children. Actually, the product quality, the logo and slogan “Just do it” did not change at all, but consumers stopped buying them. A management expert once said: you had better know what you will do and then you need to know how to do it. The purpose of this article is to explain and clarify what brands

are. It is after we understand the definition of brands that we can further study brand building. In following articles, I would like to discuss with you about brand establishment theories and practice. During this process, we must remember that three brand elements are the keys to understanding brand definition and our weapon to create international brands in China.


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